Normal Gate, Summer 2004
Outdoor Sculpture & Building Ornamentations

Normal Gate

Miller Theater Complex


In 1885, an ornamental arbor crafted in wrought iron was given to UO in commemoration of the Normal School that ended that year. The gate, originally located near Villard Hall, became part of the landscaping of the new Robinson Theater. Its condition was neglected over the years.. The Associated Students of Historic Preservation, with Historic Preservation students under the guidance of Professor Don Peting, commenced restoration of the gate as an activity associated with National Historic Preservation Week, May 3-8, 2004. The gate was restored at Fern Bottom Forge, under the direction of Martin Gabbert, wrought-iron craftsman. The restored "Normal Gate" was return to its Robinson Theater site in summer 2004. On University Day 2005 (May 12) the gate was rededicated.  On March 11, 2013, Normal Gate was rededicated in its new location as part of the Miller Theater Complex, of which the remodeled Robinson Theater is a part.

Right: Normal Gate, before restoration

For more information on the project, see the web site, Normal Gate Restoration Project (University of Oregon Associated Students for Historic Preservation. 2004).

Photo: Chris Bell.



Below is a summary of the 2005 rededication event, by Chris Bell:

On May 12th, University Day celebrated 100 years at the University of Oregon, started in 1905, as a way for the community to contribute to the campus beautiful. This year, on the same day, the Associated Students for Historic Preservation (ASHP), comprised of students from the School of Architecture and Allied Art's Historic Preservation Program, rededicated a monument that had been buried for 55 years, and pre-dated University Day's founding by 20 years: The 1885 Normal Gate.

Just outside the entrance to the Robinson Theater, a gathering of about 25 students, faculty, staff and community members came to witness a brief ceremony and tape-cutting, reflecting a year of restoration and planning to bring the 1885 wrought-iron trellis back to its original standing.

The first speaker, Horace Robinson, the man for whom the theater is named, at 95 years of age gave a refresher on campus history, priming the group with the sheer absence of buildings and trees when the Gate was erected in 1885. Horace described how this honored the closing of the Normal School, which moved to Monmouth University, now Western Oregon University. The Normal School provided teaching training, and its closing reflected a philosophical shift of the University, then just 9 years old, toward classical training and academic focus over vocational training.

Horace also took part in the design and construction of the theater from 1947 to 1949. He explained how vast amounts of dirt was excavated to dig the stage down, and ultimately, the fate of the gate to be buried up to the top was at his behest, to save at least part of the gate for view, instead of burying it completely.

In conjunction with Tim King and Christine Thompson of UO facilities, blacksmith Martin Gabbert, Preservation faculty Don Peting and Kingston Heath, the students of ASHP have worked to unearth, restore, and return the Gate to its rightful place starting last May, during Historic Preservation Week. The project continued over the summer working in the Fern Bottom Forge blacksmith shop of Martin Gabbert. After repairing the Gate where necessary, maintaining as much historic fabric as was feasible, it was transported back to its original location and set in pressured treated wood in a fashion and location as it had been discovered.

With vines growing anew, it will eventually take the shape and form that Horace described it prior to its buried: the "Nooky" gate, where the privacy provided by the vines offered a pair of romantics a quiet get-a-way.

President Frohnmayer ended the ceremony with a reminder of what it was like in 1885. Grover Cleveland was the US President. Golf was introduced to this country. Edison gets a patent the wireless induction telegraph. And with a grateful recognition of this restoration of the campus' "most abnormal" monument, he cut the ribbon to the applause of the group.

And thus history is made. Again.

Page author:  Ed Teague